By Professor Margaret Gardner AO
The Australian Government’s Federal Budget announcement in May was confirmation that funding for the Office for Learning and Teaching would be discontinued after this year. The news, though not unexpected, represented a blow to funding for teaching and learning scholarship in Australia.
The impact will be particularly acute for the creative arts. Australia’s universities can continue to count on research funding to support many areas of scholarship. But for a host of reasons the ARC’s record for funding and advancing creative disciplines is not high relative to other fields. With no funding for innovation in learning and teaching, the creative arts will be the poorer.
Since 2010, the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) has provided, by my calculations, at least nineteen grants that were directly relevant to creative arts disciplines. These projects spanned topics as diverse as improving transparency and clarity about the process of examination of doctoral degrees; developing strategies and resources to optimise pedagogy for instrumental and vocal teachers in tertiary music conservatoires; and exploring how service learning with Indigenous communities can enhance Indigenous content in performing arts curricula.
Each of these projects have contributed to national innovations in the quality of learning and teaching, not only in the creative arts, but across higher education.
The impact of the OLT’s demise, while severe, will not be fatal. University academics teach out of love for their subject and passion for their calling; no academic wants to teach bad classes. Teachers in the creative arts will continue to dedicate time and energy to improve the learning environment of their students and do their utmost to ensure career success when they graduate.
But the environment will be that much harder, and support for innovation and performance in education within their disciplines will be diminished.
While the OLT is gone, its legacy continues. At its heart, the OLT’s raison d’etre was to foster collaboration and engagement between teaching and learning scholars. Evaluation processes for fellowships and grants always aimed to ensure that innovations in learning and teaching were shared across many institutions, courses and classes.
A significant community now exists of scholars who have been supported by OLT, whether it be in the form of a fellowship, a grant or a teaching award. Various discipline based networks as well as state and national networks have also emerged from OLT funding, each of them dedicated to sharing the outcomes of grant projects and to embedding best learning and teaching practice in higher education.
One of these groups, the Creative Arts Learning and Teaching Network (CALTN), provided a invaluable forum for the creative arts academic community. It also provided the catalyst for the formation of the first, formal peak body for the heads of creative arts education – the Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts.
Through their participation in this network there is a positive and lasting influence and impact on higher education practice in Australia.
With the demise of the OLT, the role of organisations such as the DDCA will be more important than ever.
Professor Margaret Gardner AO is President and Vice Chancellor of Monash University.